Clean energy is only “offensive” because it works

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The offense felt by Joe Hockey towards wind farms isn’t shared by most Australians. But the issue of aesthetics is real, and needs to be considered carefully.

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The Capital Wind Farm, in winter. Taken by the site manager.
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Some Air

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Thus opined the famous pollster and political strategist Mark Textor, back in June 2011. The tweet’s gone since Textor nuked his Twitter account, after comparing the Indonesian foreign minister to a ‘porn star’, but the couplet of visual offence and consequent destruction emerged again last Friday when uttered by another titan of conservative Australian politics – the Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey.

“Can I be a little indulgent? I drive to Canberra to go to parliament and I must say I find those wind turbines around Lake George to be utterly offensive. I think they’re a blight on the landscape…..We can’t knock those ones off because they’re into locked-in schemes and there is a certain contractual obligation I’m told associated with those things.”

Thus opined Joe Hockey on Alan Jones’ 2GB morning show. The machines Hockey wants to ‘knock off’ comprise the Capital and Woodlawn wind farms, owned and operated by my employer, Infigen Energy.

The Capital Wind Farm, in winter. Taken by the site manager.
The Capital Wind Farm, in winter. Taken by the site manager.

 

It’s always been clear that, for Alan Jones is spawned by the vision of machines that convert atmospheric kinetic energy into electrical power. In the dark faculties of his mind, he turns dark green, expands to thrice his size, and hurls himself at the evil giants, tearing them down and roaring incomprehensibly at the sky. The views espoused on that show are strongly held, but they’re much rarer than you might expect.

I’ve trod the gravel at Capital and Woodlawn with a variety of people. We had a group of school kids come through from Goulburn South Public School – they weren’t offended or disgusted. They were happy and curious. It was nice.

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For Global Wind Day in 2012, we held a tour of Capital for a variety of visitors, including a senior citizen’s club and more than 150 primary school kids. Quiet curiosity seemed the dominant attitude, rather than howls of offense or unbridled attempts to destroy the machines.

The Country Women's Association made cakes and things for the wind energy information session in Bungendore. Here I am holding up some cakes. It was nice.
The Country Women’s Association made cakes and things for the wind energy information session in Bungendore. Here I am holding up some cakes. It was nice.

 

Run With The Wind has had two successful years at Woodlawn Wind Farm, with hundreds of runners passing amongst the towers that comprise the array. At both, all that seemed at the fore was a real sense of community. I didn’t spy any runners that had pared off from the pack to hack angrily at the base of the towers with an axe.

 

Run With The Wind 2013, via the Infigen facebook page
Run With The Wind 2013, via the Infigen facebook page

 

So, people who choose to visit the wind farm don’t manifest convulsions of disgust when they encounter the wind farm up close. But the townships around Capital and Woodlawn are supportive of the array of generators, as well. The Bungendore Chamber of Commerce and Industry features a trio of turbines on the header of their logo:

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A piece of research published by the CSIRO in 2012, “Exploring community acceptance of rural wind farms in Australia: a snapshot“, examined the community acceptance of Capital Wind Farm:

“The interview participants predominantly conveyed positive messages about their experience of the Capital Wind Farm. Some specific benefits included: a new fire truck purchased for the rural fire service; turbine hosts funded and guided in their land transfer from crown lease to freehold, and general economic gains for the local town. Several participants referred to feeling comfortable with the ‘reality’ of the wind farm post-construction”

Moving beyond the townships adjacent to Capital, it’s clear Australians are mostly okay with the existence of wind energy:

The Essential Poll shown above found that 76% of respondents were supportive of the deployment of wind energy. A Climate Institute study found that support for wind energy was actually stronger in regional areas (70%) than in cities (65%).

The offense felt by Hockey and Jones isn’t shared by the communities near Capital and Woodlawn, or the Australian public as a whole, but the issue of aesthetics is real, and needs to be considered carefully. Yuriko Saito eloquently describes the paradox driving the extremes of passion in people adjacent to wind farms, in the journal Contemporary Aesthetics:

“Though environmentally benign, the turbines represent technology, which in general is regarded as incompatible with, or incongruent in, a relatively uncultivated landscape setting. But by necessity, wind farms have to be located on open, unhindered lands. As a result, they are viewed as machines intruding in a garden, to borrow Leo Marx’s imagery.”

Attitude towards wind power has a direct impact on the aesthetic impact of the machines – as shown in this research published by the University of Massachusetts:

“Respondents of all groups with a negative opinion of wind power considered landscapes with wind turbines significantly less attractive (mean = 1.69) than respondents who accept wind power conditionally (mean = 2.33), those who support wind power (mean = 2.8), and respondents indifferent to the issue (mean = 2.4)”

It's worth noting that the physical characters of wind turbines were found to be stronger factors of reactions to wind farms than attitudinal factors
It’s worth noting that the physical characters of wind turbines were found to be stronger factors of reactions to wind farms than attitudinal factors.

 

Counter-intuitively, support for wind farms actually increases as you survey residents closer to the turbines – something researchers call the ‘Inverse NIMBY syndrome’.

There’s a contingent of individuals who contend, with conviction, that we can’t source electrical energy unless it’s coupled to carbon emissions. To them, wind turbines and solar panels are offensive – not because their shape and movement are contentious, but because they exist, and they work. No shape could ever lead them to forgive the production of electricity without the emission of greenhouse gases.

Most people are okay with wind farms. Some people object to their impact on the landscape, and reasonably so – their concerns can be met through improved siting and careful consideration of the landscape, amenity and community.

A handful hate wind energy due solely to ideology. To them, the only resolution is the immediate and literal destruction of every single machine capable of generating carbon-free electricity.

 Source: Some Air. Reproduced with permission.

 

 

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7 Comments
  1. Albery Moray 6 years ago

    I’ve been wondering why roads (ugly blights on the landscape), farm buildings (often ugly and messy), mobile phone and microwave towers, and all the 330 kV to 415 V power lines are invisible to Joe Hockey. It makes no sense to say that only the wind turbines are utterly offensive.

    • Robert Johnston 6 years ago

      Simple, they are “new”. Some people embrace change, others like the north shore Liberals see it as an attack on their dominant position in life, others just get on with living with quiet curiosity and amazement at the advances the human race is capable of. I guess it comes with the youth of school children and the experience of those in the CWA – I wonder if Joe has actually been to a windfarm? Pity our politicians aren’t actually a decent representation of the cross section of views of our broad society.

  2. JeffJL 6 years ago

    Why don’t they paint them green (or in the outback, red)?

  3. Bill Burrell 6 years ago

    Of course the schoolkids were not offended or disgusted, but wait until they realize that every wind generator requires something like 20 years of faultless operation in favorable wind conditions before it returns the value of all the initial mining, refining and dissemination of all the materials that went into its manufacture, not the mention the damage done to the environment by the waste byproducts of that manufacture…these things only pay off for wind farms because of the huge subsidies they receive from the taxpayer, both from governments and from increased energy prices. By the time these kids grow up the industry will have matured, died, and be forgotten, just like a myriad other great technologies that we visited and then moved on from…and they will also be able to look back at the gullibility of their previous generation for believing the Great Climate Change Hoax, and subscribing to the Scam Of The Century…

    • Ronald Brakels 6 years ago

      Bill Burrell, taking you at face value, you are a liar. You are either lying intentionally you you are lying through negligence where you are repeating claims you’ve picked up elsewhere and are repeating them without first performing proper intellectual hygiene and checking if they are true. Or I guess there is a third possibility that you are deteched from reality and unable to check what is true and what is false, which would mean you are insane.

    • Chris Fraser 6 years ago

      Here we have a conscientious lie.

    • Ketan Joshi 6 years ago

      Hello Bill,

      Could you quantify what proportion of an average Australian electricity bill is due to the imposition of renewable energy policies, compared to network and retail costs?

      Cheers,
      Ketan

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